Heseltine clears bids for LWT and Central TV

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MICHAEL HESELTINE, President of the Board of Trade, has opened the door to a restructuring of ITV ownership, clearing bids by Granada and Carlton Communications to buy LWT and Central Television respectively.

The bids had, in effect, been frozen while the Office of Fair Trading negotiated undertakings from the two conglomerates over the sale of advertising airtime.

The OFT's verdict that no single company should 'control or have significant influence' over more than 25 per cent of all TV advertising revenues, was greeted with delight by Granada and Carlton.

Both have airtime sales arrangements with other companies that would push them over the limit. Granada/LWT would be involved in deals amounting to 31 per cent and Carlton/Central 29 per cent.

However, they have until the end of August 1995 to sell shares they hold in airtime sales houses or re-jig contracts to bring themselves within the limit.

The current sales arrangements and shares of TV airtime (Channel 4 plus ITV) are:

Laser (owned by LWT) sells airtime for LWT (9 per cent), Yorkshire Tyne-Tees (8 per cent);

Time Exchange (owned by Granada and Scottish) sells airtime for Granada (8 per cent), Scottish (4 per cent), Grampian (0.5 per cent) and Border (0.5 per cent);

TSMS sells airtime for Anglia (5 per cent), Ulster (2 per cent) and Central (11 per cent);

Carlton (11 per cent);

Merlin sells airtime for Meridian (8 per cent), HTV (5 per cent) and Westcountry (2 per cent).

The clock will now restart in two days in the contested Granada/LWT bid. LWT will then have two days to issue any further financial information, then Granada will have one week to raise its bid or declare it final.

Carlton has declared its agreed bid for Central unconditional. It already has acceptances for more than 97 per cent of its target.

The OFT's verdict was understood to have been delayed because of objections by smaller ITV companies, worried they would be excluded as a result of a shake up.

But Sir Bryan Carsberg, director general of fair trading, is sympathetic and has said he would consider a slight relaxation of the 25 per cent ceiling if necessary.